CHAPTER FOUR: Strengths and Weaknesses
Every sign has its strengths and weaknesses and in astrology these are seen as simply two sides of the same coin. Given a congenial life the virtues can be expected to shine, and vice versa. The point always to remember is that the signs are considered equally good overall, with the possible exception of the imperial Dragon that is a bit special. All the signs have their natural enemies, as we saw in the last chapter, but only because their temperaments happen to clash. In the overall scheme of things no sign is intrinsically better or worse than another. Each does best in certain circumstances and badly in others. The trick is knowing when to give free rein to your natural instincts, and when to restrain them until more favourable times come along.
When signs clash it is because it is because they tend only to see each other’s faults. Their perception of each other is distorted, which is why it can be a good thing to have clashing signs together in your birth chart. If they can be reconciled they have between them a very clear grasp of reality because they cover each other’s blind spots. Similarly, partners in business or marriage who have clashing signs can make an inspired team if they manage to work through their differences; though in practice it often takes more effort than people are prepared to invest.
So what astrology says is that if you happen to clash with someone, well, it may actually be because they are genuinely unpleasant but in theory at least you should be able to divine their hidden virtues from the nature of their vices (or what you perceive as their vices). With the Boar, for instance, gluttony as a vice becomes sensuality as a virtue. The same impulse lies behind both but in gluttony it has got out of control. With the Ox a similar thing applies to stubbornness to the point of stupidity as a vice becoming perseverance and trustworthiness as a virtue. With the Monkey reckless mischief is just curiosity and the urge to entertain being taken too far. The same impulse can be either a vice or a virtue depending on how it is exercised and balanced with other tendencies.
The idea that one’s faults and virtues are just two sides of the same coin offers a key to how negative tendencies can be redeemed. Sometimes there is no choice in life but to repress a negative trait with all possible willpower, but unless the impulse behind it is then channelled positively it is wasted. The impulse is merely repressed. In certain cases this may be the only way to deal with a vice, but usually there is a more creative angle.
If, say, as a Monkey you find yourself constantly getting into trouble and having your plans blow up in your face, the answer is not to try and become a totally different person, just a better Monkey. Realize that you tend to go too far and pay more attention to the responses of your audience. Cultivate wisdom. People all too easily fall into the trap of overcompensation when trying to break bad habits. Trying to stifle your own natural inclinations does no-one any good, they need to be refined in the adventure of life.
At their best, people governed by the sign of the Monkey are imaginative, entertaining, adventurous and great fun to have around. A repressed Monkey on the other hand is nothing but trouble because if all these natural urges are repressed they will show in unpredictable flashes of malice, duplicity and sheer unreliability. Monkeys are blessed with talents to brighten the lives of everybody around them, they just need to remember to carry their audience with them.
In Chinese astrology your year sign defines the cultural climate in which you were born, and its expectations. But meeting these expectations means nothing if it does not satisfy your inner self. Many people feel out of tune with their times and wish they lived in another age. This is in fact quite normal for a large proportion of people born at any time. Some fit straight into the fashions and fancies of their generation while others just feel uncomfortable. This is why one needs to look beyond the year sign in astrology. The month and hour signs equally define a person.
The month sign more or less represents the personality people display to their immediate families and friends. As with the year sign, some people are happier with their month sign than others. No-one can escape the influences of their early family life, which colours their emotional responses for the rest of their lives. Our emotional wiring is laid down in childhood and anyone who thinks they can escape this is fantasizing. So, there are many people who will happily identify with their year and hour signs but draw back from their month sign. Well, the first key to happiness is to accept who you are and that applies here. If you shrink from your month sign because its negative traits seem all too horribly familiar, the chances are that it is time to investigate the virtues of that sign and steer yourself towards them.
Your hour sign, according to Chinese astrology, defines who you are on the inside, independent of family circumstances or the era in which you were born. Many people do not know their time of birth but if that is your case maybe you can guess by judging which of the animal signs you most relate to deep in your heart. Consider each in turn until one seems to fit, and unless you are totally lacking in self-awareness there is a good chance you will be right.
YIN AND YANG
The concept of Yin and Yang as the driving force of the universe is as basic to Chinese philosophy as that of the Five Elements. Even more basic in fact because all the accounts say that Yin and Yang were the first known forces. Combined in perfect harmony they formed the Cosmic Egg that was the only thing in existence. Everything else only became possible when this egg burst and the Yin and Yang became forcibly separated.
Their opposition is not therefore a hostile thing. Their interaction is the cause of the universe’s fertility. Their differences are what make it tick along and produce such a glorious abundance and variety of life.
To Western ears all this sounds quite acceptable and familiar until it is noticed that Good and Evil are not to be found in either category. Black and White are traditionally related immediately by Westerners to Good and Evil, and they often leap automatically to the assumption that the Yin-Yang disc is just another expression of this duality. But this is completely wrong. Yin and Yang are equally good in Chinese eyes. Evil is something else entirely that seeps through the cracks when Yin and Yang are not in harmony.
A difference this makes in China is that people tend to be much less ready to leap into heated arguments. Impoliteness is a great social disgrace and if they do get into fights or feuds the Chinese are noticeably slower to assume their enemy must be evil just because they are the enemy. Up to a point anyway, one must beware of broad generalizations. Chinese society is notably more polite than many others; one can safely say that much, and probably this comes from not having an ingrained belief that all life is a struggle between good and evil. Fights and feuds do erupt just as everywhere else but noticeably less often and against an ancient backdrop of cultural disapproval of such behaviour. Thanks to having the Yin Yang disc at the heart of its philosophy, in Chinese belief all war and disruption is seen as a failure of wisdom, however necessary they may occasionally be.
In history this in-built tolerance is shown by the relations between the settled, agricultural Chinese and the warlike, horse-riding nomads of the north. The centuries have been punctuated by wars between them, but in the intervals often quite warm relations developed and the ruling dynasties frequently intermarried to try and cement good relations. And when, as happened, the nomads conquered China, they were rapidly absorbed into the mainstream culture.
In religion this tolerance is shown by the remarkably peaceful coexistence (relatively speaking) of the two main religions – Taoism and Buddhism. Their two parallel pantheons of deities and bodhisattvas exist side by side in heaven, often sharing its palaces and duties,. So in Buddhist temples one often finds statues of the Eight Taoist Immortals and in many Taoist tales the Buddha and Jade Emperor consult each other over the best course of action heaven should take on major issues as we saw in the tale of Stone Monkey, Great Sage Equal of Heaven.
THE KEYS TO HAPPINESS FOR THE SIGN OF THE MONKEY
The first key to happiness for anyone, no matter what your sign, is acceptance of who you are. If it is glaringly obvious that you are a Monkey by nature, say, it is no good trying to be a Tiger or Ox instead, you will only make a mess of it. The world is full of people trying to be someone else; it doesn’t need any more. The true measure of success in life is written in our hearts; all the acclaim in the world is empty if it’s not for something you are really proud of inside.
So if you obviously fit into the pattern of a Monkey, the first thing to do is to accept it and investigate the virtues and pitfalls of the sign. Under both headings comes the need for independence. Monkeys hate being caged and will only mope or cause trouble when it happens. So the first key to Monkey happiness is making sure there are not too many rules and restrictions in life, and partners need to accept this if there is to be any hope of lasting happiness. Having said which, Monkeys in return have to learn not to abuse such freedom and the trust that goes with it. Often this takes a lifetime.
Irresponsibility in personal relationships is often a symptom in Monkeys of not being stretched enough in their work. Because of their restless curiosity and need for new puzzles to solve, Monkeys need careers that exercise their imaginations. This is more important in the long run than job security and a pension plan because a Monkey in a satisfying job is far more likely to see it through to the end than one who is bored. The immediate future is all that can hold his or her attention for long.
Conflicts within a birth chart, such as having a Tiger, Horse or Rooster as month or hour sign, cause Monkeys less problems than for most signs because of their adaptability. The effect is usually a stabilizing and strengthening one, whereas having the Monkey repeated is much like bringing two or three real monkeys together in the wild – entertaining mayhem! If you want a quiet life, double or treble Monkeys are best appreciated from a safe distance.
Another key to happiness for most Monkeys is letting someone else manage basic finances because generosity and general carelessness about money can lead to problems. Gambling is something to be wary of because Monkeys get easily addicted to it, but being ready to take risks in real life is one of Monkey’s virtues so there is no need to get too puritanical about it – just be aware of the danger, especially when life is not otherwise going your way.
Monkey years tend to be full of surprises for everyone, having an undercurrent of mischief and adventure. Some people enjoy this more than others of course but there is rarely meant to be any real harm in Monkey’s pranks, and often there is a lesson to be learned from them.
One fascination of Chinese astrology is that looking into the meaning and origins of the signs opens our eyes to the Chinese world view that prevailed from ancient until quite modern times, astrology having been taken very seriously until the nineteenth century when it was still seen as an essential tool of government. That’s no longer the case of course, but many Chinese still take astrology very seriously and many of their most profound insights have fed into the discipline through the ages.
It’s not even necessary to believe that Chinese astrology works for it still to be a mine of information about human nature and interaction. The twelve archetypal signs still beautifully capture the spectrum of human types, whether or not they actually relate to one’s moment of birth. They also have the appeal of being fresh to Western minds, uncluttered by layers of cultural association. Few people will be able to identify completely with any one of the signs, but all should recognize aspects of their behaviour in them. The interesting thing about Chinese astrology though, is how often even sceptics are impressed by its accuracy, especially when taking into account the month and hour signs of their character profile. There’s no scientific reason why it should work, but it still does to a surprising extent.
This is the fourth book in a series that began with Year of the Dragon and was a particular pleasure because of the Monkey’s colourful character. It was just a shame the series had to end here because it was building into a nice general survey of Chinese myth and legend. With hindsight what we should have done was follow the success of Year of the Dragon with a larger book covering all the Year Signs. This would also have avoided some necessary repetition of the astrology in this series.
However, that's not what happened and for those who have contacted me asking where to get Year of the Monkey here is some compensation. You can at least read it online, though it's not quite the same without most of the wonderful illustrations Wayne Anderson produced for the intended hard-copy edition.